Last week I was spending a glorious afternoon sitting on the green outside a pub with a takeaway pint, when I saw a boy I recognised from before the world stopped still.
He’s the kind of acquaintance that in ‘normal life’ I might have given a gentle nod and a smile, but in these days of Covid where we’re starved for human interaction, I dived into conversation.
We kept our distance, after knocking elbows awkwardly, and he commented on my leopard-print mask while I silently noticed his surgical one — uselessly wrapped around his elbow.
At the end of our catch-up he asked if I wanted to join him and some friends at a rave that evening.
‘Really?’ I asked, ‘You’re going to a rave?’ ‘Yer,’ he replied with a shrug.
‘There’s a secret WhatsApp group of like 300 people.
‘Don’t know the location until later, right now it’s just referred to as Bernard’s castle.’
He smiled: ‘Hey if they’re breaking the rules, we might as well.’
I declined the invitation.
While some people have been choosing which parent to visit and which relatives can’t attend a funeral, others have been partying with strangers.
Last weekend, police broke up more than 70 illegal gatherings across Birmingham, while in Huddersfield, police had to disperse a 300-strong rave.
In the capital, more than 500 illegal events were organised in July alone. A 4,000-person ‘quarantine rave’ in Manchester resulted in a 20-year-old man dying of a suspected overdose and police investigating the rape of an 18‑year-old woman at a similar event.
Even events that result in no additional illegal activity leave litter strewn across parks and hours of police time wasted.
And they’re damaging something else too; the reputation of my generation.
These inconsiderate, hedonistic teeth‑grinders are fitting into every cliché about modern younger people (commonly and disdainfully called millennials, although these days some millennials are pushing 40 and lots of the ravers actually belong to the even younger Gen Z).
They think the rules don’t apply to them. That the pandemic should end now, because they’re bored of it.
You may be struggling to live without much human contact or a stable income, but this group can’t survive without electronic music until 3am.
At these UMEs (unlicensed music events) people are dancing close enough to see their reflection in a stranger’s dilated pupils.
And I seriously doubt they’re then quarantining for ten days — even if they did, I’m willing to bet many still live with their parents.
While young people may be unlikely to get seriously ill, they can easily transmit the disease to older relatives with fatal consequences.
When I hear about these events I immediately think of my shielding 27-year-old friend, still too scared to leave her house because of the reckless way she sees other people behave.
For other friends, it elicits a sense of resentment: it becomes hard to do the little things (like put on a mask and keep your distance) when you see a peer doing something so remarkably heedless.
The boy in the pub was pretending his attendance was some kind of rebellion — sticking two fingers up to the system.
As if he would be just as happy to spend his Saturday night in a knitting circle if it would put across the same message.
But in reality, he’s going because he’s bored of the current situation and wants to forget about it with loud music and discount drugs.
The UK rave scene, which surfaced in the 1980s alongside the new youth music genre of Acid House, was largely stamped out with the introduction of the 1994 Criminal Justice And Public Order Act, which made UMEs illegal.
Flouting the law at an illegal rave may have felt illicit and exciting then — but post-Covid, it’s just dangerously selfish.
The current law has not been put in place as an attack on youth culture. It covers bingo halls and wild parties just the same, and it’s there to keep us safe.
But please don’t let these idiotic individuals define your view of our whole age group.
This is what makes me so angry — a minority of young people are dancing in abandoned buildings and tainting the reputation of all of us.
No wonder so many people, reading the headlines over their morning marmalade, feel dismayed by the young refusing to take coronavirus seriously and letting down the nation.
The truth is the number of young people engaging in raves is tiny. The majority have been staying at home and struggling to cope like everyone else.
Except it’s not quite like everyone else, because what’s often forgotten is that the very generation getting lambasted are sacrificing far more than most.
Last week we saw the distraught faces of teenagers having their university places pulled thanks to an algorithm.
Young people have been furloughed and fired at a greater rate than any other age group according to HMRC; those in late teens have missed defining years at school, and studies show that students who graduate in a recession will suffer a large initial earnings loss that will take up to ten years to make up.
All of these sacrifices and concessions have been made by the young, not to protect themselves, but for the older generations they want to safeguard.
We’re taking it seriously for those whose odds aren’t as favourable as our own.
But my generation isn’t being celebrated or thanked for its actions, but vilified because of the activities of a selfish minority.
The day after I saw the boy I refuse to call a friend, I checked his Instagram. Sure enough, there were images of the rave, mostly blurry close-up photos of his gaping mouth and flashing lights, taken somewhere in East London and captioned with a secretive finger-on-mouth emoji.
Social media is a forum where people portray the version of themselves they want others to see, and instead of being ashamed or embarrassed he wanted to gloat about his illegal activity.
This is perhaps the most shocking part of his rave attendance: he thought it was cool.
Part of the reason these raves are popular is precisely because of their ‘secret’ and illegal nature.
But this is not the same rebellious scene of the 1980s and 1990s, part of a new subculture.
Covid-ravers are more like Trump supporters who lick the windows of shops that make them wear masks and spit in the faces of cashiers who impede their ‘freedom’.
There is nothing cool about risking other people’s lives so you can have a party.
We should be talking about how young people have pulled together to protect their elders, putting their own lives on hold and their economic futures at risk to defend their parents and grandparents, but instead we’re discussing the small numbers ruining it for everyone.